Geeks and Greens Take Over the Auto Show

A look at the coming trends in cars, from plug-ins to more efficient gas engines.

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Boxy is out. Aerodynamics help with efficiency, too, which will lead to mainstream cars as swept and sleek as ever. The new Toyota Venza, for instance, is half car, half crossover, with a squat look that critics would pan if it didn't come from the world's most successful automaker. Another new crossover, the BMW X6, has a half-raised rear end that looks as if it can't decide whether to sit or stand. The Subaru Forester, which used to be as square as a postal truck, will be svelte and curvy when the new version arrives this year.

Boxy is in. Somebody always has to be contrarian. The redesigned Honda Pilot, coming this year, will be tall and rectangular, like the Jeep Commander. A new SUV from Kia, the Borrego, will have similar styling. And the Mini Clubman is shaped like a small hearse—for all that hauling, I guess.

Go-fast isn't going away. The automakers still have some supercars to brag about, like a 550-horsepower Cadillac CTS and a 416-horsepower Lexus IS. But who cares about that when you can talk about battery chemistry and biofuels instead.